What Is Truth?

By Kelly Cilano

Pontius Pilate asked that question of Jesus in John 18: 37-38, and that question has plagued mankind ever since. Everyone struggles with truth, and often tries to redefine it.

You may have heard some of these faulty excuses for faulty behavior, for example: “What is truth for you might not be truth for me,” or “That is your truth.” Or how about this one: “Truth is what you make it.” 

Do those excuses sound familiar? These common responses are often made to take your eyes off the original issue. They are thrown your way to create a mental illusion; a sleight of hand, as a magician would call it.

How do you determine truth, when it is perceived as very illusionary by most?  

What exactly did Jesus say that made Pontius Pilate explode in such sarcastic disdain, which only his cold heart and his hated work in a forlorn outpost called Jerusalem could produce?

Let’s follow the exchange more closely:

“Therefore Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’ Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’ And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him’” (John 18:37-39).

In the context of that question, Jesus defines truth for Pilate before he even asks, knowing that Pilate never knew truth. Truth for Pilate was however the Roman Empire defined it, and that was always changing.

Jesus knew that man in his sinful condition uses truth as a bendable framework which is compromised to fit to his standards. Yet that is the one thing that truth is not. Truth is not a platform that is bendable to our circumstances. It does not compromise. Yet Pilate’s job was exactly that: to be a master compromiser for the Roman Empire. It produced in him a hatred for the job, for the people he was over, and most of all, for himself. 

In Pilate’s world, truth was nonexistent. The result of nonexistent truth was then, and still is confusion, chaos, disdain, depression, violence and death. Pilate could attest to that, and so could the people who walked the Jerusalem streets with Jesus. The people lived according to what was right in their own eyes.  After all, it was just how you had to live in order to survive.

Is today so much different?   

When you let go of the Word of God, the listening to and studying of God’s Word, of prayer and attending church, it’s just a matter of time till everything unravels. Every backslider knows and can point to what really was the turning point: an attitude, a broken good habit, apathy, or boredom. They knew it, but they didn’t choose to correct it.

It wasn’t any big deal. Just something small… like being late to work. Keep doing it and before you know it, you’re being fired for it. Yet if you’re honest, before you started being late, other bad attitudes, issues, and excuses were already taking hold in your head like weeds in a garden.

Either you put death to those weeds, or those weeds will start choking out your life day by day. 

It is easy for us to judge Pilate. If you follow him in the text, there he is doing his job; trying to compromise with the crazy mob, the Pharisees, his wife, and her distressing warning: “Have nothing to do with him!”

How many times have we been in that position of no-win and have desperately looked ourselves for the lesser evil? Is truth avoided then because, like Pilate, we think the lesser evil is less painful?

Someone I know told me they wanted to attend a Mormon church and a Mosque, to learn about what they believe. My response was that a book could serve that purpose nicely. No, they wanted to experience it. 

So I asked them if they ever wanted to experience being hit by a tractor-trailer (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

The FBI has taught its people how to recognize counterfeit money. They do this, not by becoming familiar with counterfeit money, as you may think. Instead, they spend hours handling, examining, and learning everything there is to know about the real currency.

When you really know the genuine article, the fake becomes very easy to spot.

How would you respond to what Jesus told Pilate? “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."

Would you recognize truth?